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October 26, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

Second, Short, and Catcher

by Michael Jong

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Yet another week passes with more potential keeper names for The Keeper Reaper to examine. The season is winding down just as the offseason for keeper league owners is heating up. Here again are the format categories that we are considering, for reference:

Shallow (10-team mixed, 3 keepers): http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6431
Medium (12-team mixed, 4 keepers) http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6430
Deep
 (15-team mixed, 6 keepers) http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6432
NL-Only
 (12-team NL only, 5 keepers) http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6435
AL-Only
 (12-team AL only, 5 keepers) http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6434
Super Deep 
(20-team mixed, 10 keepers) http://pfm.baseballprospectus.com/index.php?cid=6433

Dustin Ackley | Seattle Mariners
Shallow:
NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
BORDERLINE
AL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

Before we even consider the potential 2012 Ackley, let us prorate the 2011 version and his minor league performance to 650 plate appearances to get an idea of what he could look like:

Ackley

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

H

AVG

OBP

SLG

2011 Majors

650

67

10

62

10

157

.273

.348

.417

2010-2011 Minors

650

96

11

61

12

153

.280

.387

.435

The run and RBI numbers from the minors are there for posterity but are essentially meaningless. What is evident is that, in the first two seasons of Ackley's professional career, he has been just a mediocre player in terms of fantasy contributions. Among qualified second basemen in 2011, one other player performed similarly to the projected 2011 Ackley, and that player (Neil Walker—more on him later), was worth $12 in 12-team mixed leagues last season.

With very little changing in Seattle in terms of their offense, it is hard to predict a significantly better performance in terms of run stats, so the $12 prediction is a baseline of performance should Ackley remain stagnant in development going into next year. The good news is that there is room for improvement in at least one regard: batting average. Kevin Goldstein mentioned before the season that batting average may be Ackley's only fantasy contribution but that it would be a good one given his strong contact skills and excellent swing. He displayed that in the minors, striking out only 12.7 percent of the time while walking 14.2 percent of the time. His selectivity at the plate and contact bore out in his discipline numbers, as he made contact on 84 percent of pitchers and almost 90 percent of those in the zone while swinging at only 39 percent of total pitches. Still, he struck out 21 percent of the time, and with a little more experience and his pedigree, we could see improvement in that category and subsequently in his batting average.

Unfortunately, the rest of the profile is likely to remain static. Ackley is a decent bet to post double-digit home runs and steals with a full slate of playing time next season, but even that and a .286 batting average only bought Howie Kendrick a $14 value and an 87th place finish in fantasy value standings in 2011. Even with improvement in his batting average, Ackley remains right on the border for deep keeper options.

Neil Walker | Pittsburgh Pirates
Shallow:
NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
NO
NL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

Ackley, optimistically, may be the American League version of Neil Walker, but Walker himself is exactly who we think he is. He actually outperformed his PECOTA projections in 2011, mixing an average batting average with 12 home runs. Unfortunately, most fantasy fans were expecting more homers after he hit that exact number in 2010 in nearly one-third fewer plate appearances. Expecting a few more in 2012 sounds appropriate, and his plate peripherals have remained pretty consistent through his first two seasons, meaning any variation in batting average would be at the mercy of the BABIP gods. Even with some improvement, Walker's presence in a poor Pittsburgh lineup is not going to improve his menial run counting stats, and given his poor steals percentage and lack of speed, it would not be advisable to count on his almost 10 stolen bases again in 2012. He remains a solid keeper in NL-only leagues and our super deep categories only.

Dee Gordon | Los Angeles Dodgers
Shallow:
NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
BORDERLINE
NL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

Gordon is a confusing player because he showed two distinct sides in 2011, coinciding with his stint before and after his August injury.

Gordon

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

H

AVG

OBP

SLG

June-August

114

13

0

5

12

26

.234

.248

.270

September

119

21

0

6

12

42

.372

.398

.451

But through those different performances, we saw a couple things remain static even with drastic changes in hits and times on base.

  • His steals remained pretty similar even with more opportunities. Gordon attempted 15 steals in his first 114 PA and 16 steals in his next 119.
  • He does not have much power. His ISO in both instances was below .100, and his RBI totals at the top of the lineup remained about as scant before and after the injury.
  • He still could not draw a walk. He drew just two in his first 114 tries at the plate and only five during his hot streak.

So we can expect Gordon to be a steals specialist with no power; this sort of player is not a new entity to fantasy players. The question is whether his batting average can support his game enough to buy him the steals on which his value will depend. Last year, Gordon hit .345 on balls in play, and it is safe to say that he will not be as lucky in 2011. This is especially true given his lack of plate discipline; while Gordon proved he could make contact (89 percent of pitches swung at), he also showed that he could not determine the difference between a strike (in-zone swing rate of 63 percent) and a ball (out-of-zone swing rate of 44 percent). Since he does a good job of making contact on both pitch types, he should be able to avoid strikeouts but will also run into his share of poorly hit balls. Last season, pitchers threw a ball in the zone to Gordon 54 percent of the time; given his penchant for swinging a bit indiscriminately at balls and strikes, pitchers may be making the adjustments to throw poorer pitches his way. And since Gordon has yet to show a good ability to draw walks, his OBP and steal opportunities are going to be strongly tied to his success on balls in play.

It may be easier to think of his performance in a range. Last season, Ichiro Suzuki batted .272 and got on base at a .310 clip, winding up with 40 stolen bases on the way to a $15 season. On the opposite end, Alcides Escobar managed a .254 batting average off of a .285 BABIP and reached base at a .290 rate. He managed to steal just 26 bases en route to a $6 year. Take the middle route for Gordon and you may be looking at a $10 or $11 season with over 30 steals but paltry side numbers. Take an optimistic approach given his early success in the majors, and he lies closer to the borderline for deep leagues.

Ian Desmond | Washington Nationals
Shallow:
NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
NO
NL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

Desmond, like Gordon, will benefit from hitting at the top of the order. Also like Gordon, he too has a penchant for not seeing the finer points of the walk. Unfortunately, his contact capabilities are far inferior to the three middle infielders listed above, and that is what ultimately brings his value down. Yes, the Nationals' lineup figures to improve after uncharacteristically poor seasons from Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, but even an improvement in his runs scored would not allow him to match up with a player like Gordon in terms of speed. While Desmond once upon a time graded out as “a tick above average” in speed according to Kevin Goldstein, Gordon had been considered a threat to “steal 50-plus bases per year” in Goldstein's eyes. So while Desmond has similar limitations, he represents part of the low end of what Gordon could accomplish and should be treated accordingly in deep keeper leagues.

Emilio Bonifacio | Florida Marlins
Shallow:
NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
BORDERLINE
NL-only:
YES
Super Deep:
YES

It is difficult for me to be the guy who remains objective about Bonifacio after watching his disastrous 2009 season from a fan's perspective as well as the analyst chair. But this season, he has made legitimate strides. Here is some guy on some Marlins blog highlighting those improvements:

You can immediately see the two major changes in Bonifacio’s game between the two time periods of his career. His lack of power and strikeouts remain at similar levels, as evidenced by his strikeout rates, ISO, and extra bases per hit. The two differences lie in his walk rate and his BABIP.

...Bonifacio is clearly swinging at fewer pitches than he used to in his first few seasons in the league. This has led to more pitches seen, more walks, and more called strikes. The fact that he has whiffed on almost the exact same percentage of swings is pretty indicative of why his strikeouts remain similar; it seems Bonifacio has probably replaced a certain number of whiffs with an equal number of called strikes by taking more pitches. However, overall this recent change has been of benefit to Bonifacio, and the change to fewer swings is pretty indicative of talent in the future...

Bonifacio's changes in walk rate from 2010 and 2011 are a direct result of increased selectivity; after swinging at 35 percent of pitches outside the zone in 2009, he has cut down that number to 28 percent in 2011. More walks with similar strikeout totals indicates an increased chance of getting on base and wreaking havoc with steals, and Bonifacio did just that by swiping 40 bags in 2011. Clearly his batting average was inflated, and expecting another .300 hitting performance would be farfetched. However, given his recent improvements, expecting a .270 hitter with close to 40 steals still leaves him fairly close to the $13 to $15 value necessary for deep keeper eligibility.

Ramon Hernandez | Cincinnati Reds
Shallow:
NO
Medium:
NO
Deep:
NO
NL-only:
NO
Super Deep:
NO

Hernandez has a few things going against him, mostly the uncertainty of free agency. The Reds are unlikely to ask him back with Devin Mesoraco (himself an interesting Keeper Reaper option) waiting in the wings, so Hernandez will be left to try and find a job after a stellar part-time season. Complicating matters is the fact that Hernandez might be a Type A free agent, which would lower the chances of signing somewhere with more significant playing time. He clearly has shown he still has some legs, so he may be worth holding onto in your very deep leagues, particularly if he lands in a spot where he could get a starter's playing time.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

Related Content:  2011,  Steals,  Neil Walker

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Premium Article World Series Prospectu... (10/25)
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Fantasy Article The Keeper Reaper: Out... (10/25)
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Fantasy Article The Keeper Reaper: Sta... (10/27)
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The Lineup Card: 13 Ba... (10/26)

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